Part of being human is the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes or, better still, wear them. Inge Wallage, currently communications director at the International Water Association (IWA), is one of an increasing number of professionals who are blurring the lines between business, civil society, public sector and campaigning groups. Her career has spanned roles at Motorola, Statoil, Philips Electronics, Greenpeace and in communications consulting. This is what she has learnt.
What I’ve learned after seven years in civil society and a career in business is that solutions for the future will come about by unusual suspects coming together and sector boundaries blurring – we bring water professionals together across disciplines, across sectors and across the world.
Humans tend to believe in technocratic solutions but the reality is we need to come up with new ideas that might come through different roots such as philosophy. Even though IWA is a registered charity, it is starting to behave like an incubator and/or a social enterprise – you need to be agile to come up with water management solutions. We’re becoming more business process focused for good, not to make money.
My approach is to apply the three A’s to any programme: authenticity, audience and audacity. Another you could add is accountability, which is also crucial.
If you add Mother Earth and future generations into your target audiences it will really challenge your business plan. And, in order to be authentic and take these two audiences into account, and be accountable, we need to be audacious – set yourself a target you can’t meet very easily so you have to be innovative and find peers acting in a similar way to support you.
For authenticity, I always use the example of Unilever. Paul Polman acts from these three A’s. Hopefully being on the B Team also supports him to move ahead. I’ve also been really impressed with Nestlé, what they do in terms of alignment with the SDGs seems very solid and they give me the impression they truly want to contribute.
Most people think they have a societal responsibility. A recent discussion at the European Association of Communication Directors showed that when push comes to shove they are accountable to the people who pay their wage and short termism takes over from the long term. Unfortunately, behaviour doesn’t necessarily correlate with the way people think. None of this is easy and communication is key.
Originally posted on Radar, Issue 10